Domestic Turmoil in John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence”

John Cassavetes’ most revered film, “A Woman Under the Influence”, is one of cinema’s exemplary works of realism. The title refers to an urban housewife who is gradually losing her sanity. As this intense film unfolds, Cassavetes slowly shifts his focus to the eccentric husband. This subtle switch of the viewer’s gaze is absolute genius. Just like that, Cassavetes tells us everything we need to know about this particular case of domestic turmoil.

Plunged into a misogynistic household, Mabel finds herself victim to the restrictions of a gendered role. In many ways, “A Woman Under the Influence” plays like a psychological horror film. The protagonist falls victim to her surroundings. Her sadness, insecurities, anxiety, and deteriorating mental health is caused by her failure to fulfill a role that society has assigned her. In this remarkable work, we witness two unpredictable human beings act incredibly out of norm, yet only one of them is perceived as unstable by the surrounding family members.

Cassavetes film is about the toxicity of gender roles in society, but there are no villains or heroes in this household. Characters are depicted with incredible complexity. We watch two frustrated individuals struggling to deal with one another, but never does it feel like the director is judging either one of them. Cassavetes’ tender approach makes you empathize with real people who have fallen victim to the faultiness of society. This is cinema at its most intimate and personal.

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